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If you hold your ear close to the ground in Washington, D.C., the rumble you will hear is not the Metro but a populist rage hurtling like a railroad train toward the Capitol.

Americans have by and large lost faith in their institutions, and the evidence is everywhere. According to a CBS News poll, at the beginning of the new millennium, 45 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing most of the time. Now less than a quarter do so. A January 2010 joint poll by NBC and The Wall Street Journal found that the percentage of people who view the President negatively has nearly doubled in a year's time. Approval ratings for Congress were even lower: 21 percent.

In some respects, the distrust is justified. Hurricane Katrina was a blow that the Bush Administration never fully recovered from. A cumbersome government bureaucracy too slow in providing help shattered citizens' faith in government's effectiveness.

But the ineffectiveness of government was magnified in the case of the Nigerian terrorist who almost brought down a Northwest airliner headed for Detroit in December.Brave passengers, not a massive government apparatus,thwarted him. In the postmortem, we discovered that despite a multitrillion-dollar campaign to protect citizens against terrorism, and the fact that the visa office in Lagos, Nigeria, had been warned that Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab was dangerous, it issued him a visa anyway. Appalling.

The bigger that government gets, the further it grows away from the people. From the massive expansion of health care to increased environmental controls, higher taxes, and mind-numbing budget deficits, people feel overwhelmed and powerless. It doesn't help when Congress closes its doors to draw up the health-care bill ...

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Channeling the Populist Rage
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April 2010

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